Friday, 9 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Bob Downe: 20 Golden Greats

Adelaide Fringe Review - Bob Downe: 20 Golden Greats at the Arts Theatre, Friday 9 March

I first saw Bob Downe on TV in London in, I think, about 1992.  For some reason, the self-styled Prince of Polyester resonated with me and I found him hilarious without ever quite knowing why.  Nothing much has changed.  I may be fatter, older and balder but Bob still looks as youthfully effervescent at the age of 53 as he did all those years ago, and is just as wonderfully funny.  If only he still wore the legendary beige safari suit...

There is something quintessentially Australian about Bob Downe, but I don't quite know just what it is.  Perhaps it's his warmth and the sheer delight he seems to take in performing.  You cannot help but think that he lives to be on stage and that really does reach every corner of the theatre.   Mind you, the feeling is very much reciprocated.  Many performers have fans who enjoy watching them, many have devoted followers, but I have rarely seen a crowd that so adores their idol.   Genuinely adores him.  Bob (we can't even conceive of him under his real name, Mark Trevorrow) could literally do anything on the stage and he would have the audience in raptures.  And what a mixed audience it is - he has a demographic that other acts can only dream of.

For those of you who have never seen Bob perform, his genre is probably best defined as retro-kitsch (another sign of the impact he has made on me, as this sort of thing is not normally my cup of tea at all).  He performs classic pop from the 60s, 70s and 80s punctuated with gags and banter, and enhanced by nifty but naff dance routines.  But I think it is the eyes and teeth that really seal the deal.  He has a piercing, wide-eyed stare and stage-school smile that have to be seen to be believed, topped off (literally) by the most immoveable hairdo known to man.  He started the show in a 70s style tracksuit, but then stripped down to reveal his Caribbean Cruise Collection - floral shirt and stunning white polyester slacks, while a mirror ball whirled away gaudily above.  You get the picture...

It is only right and proper to point out, however, that Bob Downe really can sing.  I have never seen Mr Trevorrow in any context other than as Bob Downe (except in some episodes of Kath and Kim) but it would be great to hear him belting out some big band classics, as under the playful camp there is unquestionably a truly fine interpreter of a song.  I would also love to hear him doing some Sondheim one day, or perhaps some Noel Coward.  That I would travel a long way to see.

It is also worth mentioning that Bob really does seem to know and like Adelaide and his many knowing references to the city and its personalities are very entertaining and only made the crowd love him more (if such a thing were possible).  And, as a final coup de theatre he is joined on stage by a local living legend, who tells a truly scandalous story about William Shatner, a yellow sports car and a trip to Windy Point.  Get along to the Arts Theatre if you want to find out more...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - 5-Step Guide to Being German

5-Step Guide to Being German
Austral Hotel - The Bunka, Saturday 3 March 2012

"You know this whole five step thing, it's just publicity.  Of course, there aren't really five steps to being German.  There are eighteen.  Five just makes you Austrian"*

Thus begins our guide to the Fatherland with Paco Erhard leading the way.  Amidst the humour he makes some serious points about being German today (his riffs on German school children being good at maths simply as a way to avoid yet more history lessons was extremely funny) and poses questions about what it means to feel patriotic pride in the 21st century.  However, this is no polemic and the jokes come thick and fast, aided along the way by some amusing homemade visual aids.

Mr Erhard is a somewhat frantic performer and he tends to be a bit all over the place physically, but this in a way ties in quite neatly with his attempts to poke fun at German stereotypes (efficiency, order, etc.) as he seems to be an embodiment of their antithesis, in that he's pretty scruffy and rather uncontrolled.   He is at his best when exploring the characteristics of the different regions of Germany and how Germans behave when abroad.  The latter got many laughs of recognition from a fairly large and enthusiastic audience.

My only real issue with Mr Erhard's show is that I would have liked to hear more on his observations on Australian life and culture.  There are some passing references to dangerous outback creatures, and one good crack at Adelaide's latte drinking classes, but given the nature of the show and the overall accuracy of his observations, I was hoping that he might have poked fun at us a little more.  Mr Erhard lives and works in London and there was perhaps a little too much material from his sets there focussing on the nature of Anglo-German relations.  I would like to have heard some more new material written especially for an Adelaide Fringe audience - this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he is actually performing in a venue called The Bunka but amidst all the Hitler jokes makes no reference to it!

This is a good show without being a great one. Mr Erhard is a lively and engaging performer and it was the perfect show for a Saturday afternoon.   I would have no hesitation in going again but, as I say, the material could do with a little more reworking for an Australian crowd.

*  I am paraphrasing wildly here.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Wee Andy at Holden Street Theatres

Review of Wee Andy, Holden Street Theatres, Saturday 3 March 2012

It seemed somehow sadly serendipitous to be seeing this play the night after it was reported that five people have been arrested in connection with gunshots being fired in Hindley Street on a busy Friday night.  This play dissects violence and the fallacious notions of 'respect' that inspires so much of it and, although set in a bleak Glasgow housing estate on the face of it a million miles away, it should rightly have resonance for us here in Adelaide in the way that it explores a largely unseen and unacknowledged sub-culture that exists in parallel, but without ever really interacting with, mainstream culture.  Without wanting to seem unduly pessimistic, if one stops to consider for a moment our own highly fractured and segmented society, the world of Wee Andy suddenly doesn't seem so far away after all.

This is a stunning piece of theatre.  Paddy Cunneen has created a muscular, powerful blank verse that is incredibly versatile and eminently suited to theatre.  Quite simply, this is the best contemporary verse I have ever heard on a stage.  Both down to earth and poetic, both narrative and rhapsodic, the language of the play is so rich in its imagery and the evocations of both scene and atmosphere so compelling that there were moments when the audience seemed to be collectively holding their breaths as they were transported to the scene of the crimes that are at the heart of the action.

Mr Cunneen's direction is also exemplary.  The play is staged very simply (no setting, a couple of chairs the only furniture) and so the language is accordingly allowed to do the work.  Movement on the stage is measured and minimal on the whole (but at times, suddenly explosive), yet the events being recounted are frenetic and disturbingly violent.  This contrast is wonderfully effective and allows the actors to exploit the language to maximum effect.  There are some very simple devices employed to show the end results of the violent acts that take place in the play - rubber bands on the head are used to show knife wounds, cling film the horrifying effects of an acid attack - but they were entirely appropriate and effective.  Mr Cunneen's language here again takes the credit - we don't need to see a literal depiction of someone whose face has been slashed with a knife as the playwright has already shown it to us in words.

The acting on display is also first class.  Although I may have been carried away by the language, the actors are not - they treat it as though it is their natural speech and therefore, perhaps paradoxically, they are in this way able to give full weight to the graphic imagery and poetic turns of phrases with which they are working.  The narrative and the characters' plights drive them, not a desire to speak poetry and so, as should be the case in verse plays (but sadly usually is not) the structure and carefully crafted composition of the language almost passes us by as we become engrossed by the stories these characters have to tell.  It is a very strong ensemble cast, but the extraordinary performances of Pauline Knowles as Andy's Mum and Andy Clarke as the surgeon are of the sort that make sure, despite all the disappointments it so often brings us, the theatre keeps dragging us back in.  Ms Knowles' grief and bewilderment as she recounts hearing that her son has been horribly wounded in a vicious knife attack is mesmerising, while Mr Clarke exquisitely portrays the dilemma confronting the detached professional surgeon who is battling with his own pent up rage at having to stitch too many people back together.

We have not booked tickers for Fleeto, the companion piece to Wee Andy.  We shall be doing so first thing tomorrow morning.  Opportunities to see theatre as good as this come along rarely - we urge everyone not to miss this one.